Centuries ago, before the galactic currencies collapsed, the planet builders of Magrathea built planets to any specification, assuming the clients had enough money to pay for their services, that is. Planets made of gold, planets just the right shade of pink, planets with just the right length of day at the equator, planets with short periods of rotation to give the occupants more birthdays, all of these spring forth from the great hyperspatial factory of the Magratheans.

For those of you who can't afford to have the corporate planetary building might of Magrathea creating their dream world, there is Bryce 4 by MetaCreations, the makers of Poser 4.

The fourth version of the famous planet creation program is the best yet. It allows you to specify sea, rocks, terrain, clouds, and other objects like buildings, along with the lighting and camera angle, to create a wonderful landscape, and will even let you create walkthroughs and animations. Some of the features look stunning, especially when you use alpha channels, transmissive and diffuse colours, and specularity and reflective colours. You can create smog effects, glass, realistic water, and other such graphical wonders.

Be warned, though, this is still pretty slow. Fully rendering a raytraced landscape in Bryce 4 can take hours, but doing an animated flypast or walkthrough can keep your computer busy for days, or even weeks...

I've come to enjoy using Bryce 4, but there are some pretty bad limitations to it. Specifically:

  • No object deformers in the modeller. This means that objects cannot be modified either topologically or volumetrically (including meshes). Therefore, the water, while realistic in stills, cannot move in animations the way real water does.
  • In other modellers, when you do a boolean transform, the negative object disappears after modifying the positive object. Not so in Bryce. The negative sticks around, and causes severe file bloat. I've got bryce files that are 90MB in size that would be significantly smaller if the damn negative objects would go bye bye.
  • No particle system. Therefore, no realistic rain or snow.

So why do I keep using it? The modeller interface is really easy to learn and use. Sometimes it is a bit simple and cannot jump through the hoops I want it to, but that is usually offset by its simplicity. As a result, it's a great tool to start with if you are new to raytracing. It is the first raytracer that I mastered. (That's probably why I still use it today!)

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